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The Lombardi Rules for Winning Basketball

April 11, 2017


Like many coaches I am a self proclaimed X"s and O's junkie. I can sit for hours and draw out offensive and defensive sets on the back of napkins and envelopes and any other available scrap of paper. However, as much as I love X's and O's, I'm even more interested in coaching philosophies and have studied coaches in nearly every competitive sport. 


One of my favorite coaches to study has been the legendary Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers. Lombardi's coaching philosophy was not only extremely successful in the National Football League but contains many aspects that can easily be applied to coaching basketball as well. 


Here are several ideas taken from Lombardi's coaching philosophy and how I think they can help your team: 


Play to Your Strengths. 

To me this has two meanings. One, be who you are and don't try to be anyone else. Not Calipari. Not Self. Not Pitino. Not Knight. Not Wooden. You! 


Secondly, gear your offenses and defenses around the specific skill sets of your players. Unless you can recruit to fill specific needs, don't just plug players into your favorite offensive sets and hope they can be successful. 


Outwork Everybody

This also accomplishes two things. First of all, hard work gives you the opportunity to improve quickness, to be better prepared, and to be more productive among other things. But hard work also provides an unmatchable confidence that comes with knowing that you deserve to be successful. The more you and your players have invested the harder it is to surrender when faced with adversity. 


Keep Things Simple. 

Lombardi's Packers only had a handful of offensive plays and none were overly complicated. There were no laminated cards or flip over wrist bands listing dozens of plays with multiple options. Likewise, Lombardi didn't have a phone book size file of team rules. However, the few that he did have were constantly and passionately enforced. It was nearly impossible to misunderstand or to be confused and so everyone was on the page. Does this accurately describe your team? 


Stay Focused on the Fundamentals. 

As soon as things start to go wrong on either end of the court, many coaches immediately start adding new plays, entire offenses, and stunts on defenses tot eh team playbook. In reality it's usually not the plays that need improving, it's the players! 


Most of the time (but not always of course) the team with the best players usually wins. Want better players? Then focus on improving the shooting, passing, dribbling, and fundamental defensive skill sets of each of your athletes. You'll be amazed at how much more efficient your struggling offense will be once your players are "better." 


Chase Perfection

Several former Green Bay players have gone on record discussing how they would run one rather simple offensive play dozens of times in a single practice until every individual player executed his assignment flawlessly. Over and over and over again - not a single mistake was ever overlooked or tolerated. 


The games were the exact same. Mistakes that weren't tolerated in a loss weren't tolerated in a win, regardless of the score. No team or individual has ever come even close to perfection accidently. Your only chance of ever reaching perfection is to actively and constantly chase it. 


Run to Win

Obviously Vince Lombardi believed in running the football and the Packer sweep became as famous as it was efficient. Paul Westhead, Roy Williams, Mike D'Antoni and many others have all won hundreds of games because of their team's ability to run the basketball. 


However, even if you're not a huge proponent of transition basketball, "running" still has a major place in today's game. One of Lombardi's favorite sayings was "Fatigue makes cowards of us all." Simply put, if your team is not in great shape then your players will not be able to consistently dominate "crunch time," the last five to seven minutes of the game. They just won't have what it takes mentally or physically. 


If you want to read more about Vince Lombardi's coaching philosophy check out What it Takes to be #1, written by his son Vince Lombardi Jr. 



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